Making hay while the sun shines

Last year, on Friday, May 22, it got real sunny in Germany. Cloudless, as a matter of fact. What happened next was impressive. Because all of the solar panels on the rooftops in that country began to cook, an amazing 22 gigawatts of electricity was produced. One gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts, or 1 billion watts. In other words, a lot of juice. In fact, those 22 GWs equalled half of the country’s energy needs. Half!

Remember, we're not talking about some tiny, equatorial, sun-splattered island country of dreadlocked ecotopians in grass huts here. We're talking about an economic power of the first magnitude in the “First World,” a country that has a huge appetite for electricity. We're also talking about freaking Germany, a northern land, the land of the frozen Visigoth. If Germany was in North America, it wouldn't be a state. It occupies a Canadian latitude, so it would be up there with Alberta. This ain't Florida or Arizona we're talking about, in terms of regular sunny beatdowns.

And yet, it was able to fire up fully half of its energy needs via solar panels for one sunny day in May last year. How? Basically because German leaders pulled their heads out of their southern exits years ago, stopped accepting this jive about how solar power would never supply more than a smidge of the country's energy needs, and then went ahead and made “50 percent from the sun” day happen. The main law—Germans declared that if any homeowner put one solar panel or 40 on his/her roof, that homeowner could feed that electricity into the grid and be paid accordingly. Obviously, German utility giants were slow getting their lobbyists paid off the week that little nugget was enacted.

The German people, being a fairly intelligent bunch, responded with enthusiasm for the program, enough to where the significant results of 5/22/12 were made real. And a dramatic example was put on display.

For years, we've heard our “energy experts” generally say that solar and wind power will always be minor players, that alternative energy fuels have a part to play in the Energy Picture of the 21st century, sure, but ultimately a rather small one. In the meantime, countries like Germany, Italy, Spain and Ireland heard similar stuff from their experts, said fine and thank you, and then proceeded to fire up programs like the aforementioned that encouraged a massive, populist movement, resulting in a country busily collecting solar power two, three, and 20 panels at a time.

We're not lame here in the USA when it comes to alternative energy research and action. Certainly not. But we're a ways away from achieving what they did last year in Germany. Now when it comes to gigantic projects of solar and wind power, projects covering acres and acres of land, we've got some serious stuff goin' down. More on them next week.